STOPTOBER: HIV & Smoking, why you should quit, and available help.

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In case you haven’t seen it yet, (or you have and you’re ignoring it) it’s “Stoptober” in 6 days’ time.  Why is that important?

According to Aidsmap, the online edition of Clinical Infectious Diseases reported that smoking has had a bigger impact on the prognosis of HIV-positive patients than HIV-related factors.  In a survey of 2,921 HIV-positive adults, the authors calculated that a non-smoker aged 35 had a life expectancy of 78 years.  This compared to a life expectancy of 69 for former smokers, and a life expectancy of just 63 for current smokers.

The risk of non-HIV-related death was five-times higher for current smokers compared to HIV patients who had never smoked.  HIV patients who were current smokers also had a four-fold increase in their risk of all-cause mortality.  Previous studies have shown that HIV-positive individuals are more likely to smoke than their HIV-negative peers.

According to the British Heart Foundation, over a third of gay men in the UK smoke, compared with the national average of 21%.  The authors of the Danish research believe their findings have important implications for HIV care, showing the importance of smoking cessation counselling and support.

“The loss of life-years associated with smoking was larger than that associated with HIV,” said the study. “HIV-infected smokers with long-term engagement in care lose more life-years to smoking than HIV.”

Illnesses that are potentially related to smoking, such as cardiovascular disease and cancers, are being seen with increased frequency in those living with the virus.

Quitting smoking has major and immediate health benefits for all tobacco users, including those living with HIV/AIDS. Quitting smoking decreases your risk of lung cancer and other cancers, heart disease, COPD, and stroke.  Smokers with HIV also experience a decrease in HIV-related symptoms and an improved quality of life after quitting.

Smoking weakens the immune system. It can make it harder to fight off HIV-related infections. This is especially true for infections related to the lungs. This is a risk for smoking cannabis as well as tobacco. Having HIV increases the risk of chronic lung disease and smoking can interfere with processing of medications by the liver. It can also worsen liver problems like hepatitis.

People with HIV who smoke are more likely to suffer complications from HIV medication than those who don’t. For example, those who smoke are more likely to experience nausea and vomiting from taking HIV medications.

Smoking increases the risk of some long-term side effects of HIV disease and treatment. These include osteoporosis (weak bones that can lead to fractures, more information here) and osteonecrosis (bone death, more information here.) HIV treatment slightly increases the risk of heart attack, but smoking is the major controllable risk factor for heart attacks or strokes.

Recent studies found that quitting smoking reduced heart attack risk in HIV patients more than other factors such as changes in medications.

Smoking and Opportunistic Infections

People living with HIV who also smoke are more likely to develop several opportunistic infections related to HIV. They are more likely to develop:

For women, smoking can increase the risk and severity of infection with human papilloma virus, this increases the risk of cervical disease.

Recently, the bacteria that cause Mycobacterium Avium Complex were linked to smoking. They were found in tobacco, cigarette paper and filters even after they had been burned.

More information on these studies are available at the Journal, Clinical Infection Diseases

Are you still reading? – Good, we hope this information hasn’t scared you off! – If you’re a smoker, you should know that help is at hand.  If you’re not a smoker and know someone who is, whether they’re HIV positive or not, your support can go a long way to helping someone quit, and that’s where “Stoptober” comes in.

Stoptober is a NHS initiative to encourage smokers to take up a stop smoking challenge for 28 days, in the month of October.  People joining the campaign are able to receive support from a Stoptober pack, an online and smartphone app and a 28 day text support service.

Research shows those who stop smoking for 28 days are 5 times more likely to stay smokefree.  Stoptober will lend a hand to help smokers achieve this goal.

To get your free Stoptober pack, visit https://stoptober.smokefree.nhs.uk/ and register.  They also have a Facebook page and Twitter account you can follow along with smartphone apps which offer practical support, encouragement and personalised advice in the palm of your hand, throughout the 28 days, helping you every step of the way.

They feature

  • Daily support messages to help to motivate you
  • Record a motivation. This lets you take a picture, video or capture audio to remind you why you’re giving up
  • “Stoptober Me” function which allows you to take and share a picture of yourself with the famous Stoptober wheel
  • Badges to reward your progress
  • A help button with crave-busting tips and content to distract you
  • A shareable progress indicator so friends can see how you’re doing
  • A savings calculator so you can see how much money you’re saving
  • Success tips – tried and tested ways to help you

Check it out, available for Android and iOS

You can also chat an adviser online or if you prefer the retro route, you can call them on 0800 022 4 332 between 9am – 8pm.

There’s also a wealth of information and support available online too, just google “Stop Smoking” or visit some of these links, remember to come back and let us know how you’re doing in the comments below!

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